So… What’s Shadow?
Back at EGX, we spoke to Blade, a startup from France who hope to take the gaming world by storm, as per their video below:
Their Shadow streaming service promises high-end gaming on a budget, and I got to give this a test drive to examine this claim:
The service at its core is simple. You sign up and pay a monthly subscription fee of just shy of 27 of your British Pounds. In return, you get a virtual machine with high-end specs. You then stream this machine to a device of your choice, including phones and tablets. In theory it’s just like having a top-of-the-range setup at a fraction of the cost.
I am in the perfect position to test this service as my only PC is a laptop, which is starting to show its age in AAA titles. It’s not a bad system; an AMD Dual-Core Processor A9 & R5 Graphics and 8GB of DDR4 Memory. It’s decent enough to run most of what I need, but there are some issues as things get more technically intense.
The Shadow, by comparison, currently runs a Xeon processor with an NVIDIA GTX 1080 equivalent, and 12GB of RAM. If this is capable of running comfortably on my machine, then consider it a success.
The setup process is simple. Create an account, download the app and click start, and soon you have a new blank slate PC to work with.
Initial setup went smoothly right up until the system rebooted itself as part of the Windows installation process, and then never booted back up again. Repeated resets and log-ins didn’t fix the issue, and it looked bleak for the service right at the first hurdle. Fortunately, a quick support ticket saw the glitch fixed behind the scenes within 12 hours of sending the request. I was impressed, and I commend Blade for getting their tech support so right from the get-go.
With the machine finally up and running, I picked two games for testing. Both of these games run particularly badly on my laptop, so were the perfect candidates to compare. These games were the RAM-muncher Sid Meier’s Civilization VI and the notorious CPU-hog, Cities: Skylines.
The results were immediately impressive. Civ 6 ran smoothly on the highest graphics settings, with no noticeable frame drops or slow-down. It was surreal to be able to play the game on the same machine that’s typically struggled to run it in the past. There was no obvious indication that the game was being streamed off a distant server. It was a fantastic feeling, but surreal nonetheless.
A similar experience happened with Cities: Skylines, although the experience was less enjoyable here, and I’m not sure exactly why. While the game ran mostly without issue, similar to Civ 6, mouse controls sometimes got a little fiddly. In particular, sometimes the camera would refuse to move if I moved the mouse to the left side of the screen. It happened consistently but I was never sure what could have been causing it.
More generally, the difference in monitor size was also an issue. While the Shadow was emulating a larger monitor, my tiny laptop screen saw the game shrunk to fit. This had the knock-on effect of making in-game text much smaller and harder to read, and obscuring detail. I didn’t get the chance to test this on mobile platforms, but I do have concerns with the smaller screen exacerbating this. It’s not the biggest issue, but it’s one that could be a problem for those with visual impairment.
Aside from this, the games ran smoothly, and installing and running games was no different to any other system. It was easy to lose myself in the game and not get distracted by technical issues, exactly what you want from a service like this.
Testing Input Lag
After Civ 6 and Skylines, I decided to test some faster-paced games. While both of those games are CPU hogs, neither is particular fast, and don’t really give a good impression of latency. This machine is being streamed, after all, and the potential for connection-based lag is high.
Happily, this doesn’t seem to be an issue. Games like Cuphead ran as smoothly as they would in normal use, with no observable control lag. I was still bad at Cuphead, but this was due to my own ineptitude and not because the connection was slow. This was a welcome surprise, and I commend Blade on nailing this.
This brief test of Shadow proved to be excellent. The performance was superb with only a few minor issues to prevent it from being completely perfect. The ease of setup and the speedy technical support topped it off nicely. Shadow is a service worth keeping an eye on, and I’ll no doubt be looking into a subscription of my own at some point.
Full disclosure: This review was based on a month’s free trial press subscription provided to Geeky Brummie from Shadow
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